On August 1, researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) and Louisiana State University (LSU) completed their annual cruise along the Louisiana and north Texas coasts to assess how large the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, or hypoxic zone, is this year. As expected, the results were not good for the Gulf.
“Research proves that the Dead Zone is not getting smaller,” said Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “Folks in the EPA and Mississippi River states have been pushing voluntary actions to reduce the size of the Dead Zone for years. It is clear that we need more substantial action to ward off this environmental catastrophe.”
According to the researchers, this year’s Dead Zone measures 7,722 square miles, or approximately the size of Massachusetts. The actual measured size would have been larger if researchers had been able to map further into Texas, where large expanses of the Dead Zone formed this year.
“It is time for the states and federal agencies in the Dead Zone Taskforce to show some urgency for cleaning up the Mississippi River and the Gulf,” said Rota. “We need to take the current “In-Action Plan” and give it some teeth, with enforceable timelines and goals. Without these, we are just going to see the Dead Zone get worse.”
The Dead Zone, an area of extremely low oxygen where sea life must swim away or suffocate, forms at the mouth of the Mississippi River each summer due the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that flows from agricultural fields, animal feeding operations, urban runoff, sewage treatment plants, and industrial facilities. Since 2001, the Mississippi River states, and federal agencies have had an “Action Plan” to address the growing Dead Zone. This plan has relied on almost solely voluntary actions and has not resulted in getting any closer to the stated Action Plan goal, which is to reduce the five-year running average size of the Dead Zone to 1,900 square miles by 2015.